LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Why don’t prisoners merit qualified teachers?

Did you know that nearly two-thirds of offenders in custody have been identified as requiring support in basic literacy and numeracy skills?

The decision by Corrective Services NSW to outsource nearly 90 per cent of teaching and education coordinator roles to private providers, with half of the 20 remaining education staff to be placed in clerical roles that do not require any education qualifications whatsoever, comes at a time when prison population numbers are at their highest ever and an extraordinary number of offenders are in need of educational support and planning.

Shocked and angry prison education staff are vigorously campaigning to reverse the government’s decision while at the same time fighting what many perceive as an attack on professionalism: to quote the Minister for Corrections, David Elliot, on September 2 at the Budget Estimates Committee, “You do not need to have a Bachelor’s degree to teach literacy to a prisoner.”

Aside from the fact that Minister Elliot’s comments are incredibly insulting and shortsighted, such a comment sits in stark contrast to reforms occurring in schools where the focus is on raising the already high standards of professional educators.

Minister Elliot’s comments raise a number of interesting points that warrant further discussion and debate. For starters, how is teaching a prisoner different from teaching someone who is not incarcerated, and why does this require lower rather than higher formal qualifications?

People who come into contact with the criminal justice system are often those who left school before completing Year 10 and have comorbid factors that hinder their ability to engage with and sustain contact with education services. Given the complexity of this particular student cohort, highly-qualified educators are exactly what we need.

Kathy Alling
Goulburn Correctional Centre

Pied Piper of young union talent

It was great sadness that I read in Education (August 22) of the passing of Graham Hill — one fine human being.

I first met Graham in 1972 when he visited Lismore Teachers College with a young John Hennessy in tow.

It was Graham who introduced me to trade unionism and the NSW Teachers Federation. For many years, the strength of our union came from the work that Graham did in getting young teachers involved in the union through the Trainee Teachers Association (TTA).

Graham was a powerful public speaker, be it a small group of student teachers or a large mass rally. He was a consummate negotiator and could deal with the most difficult situation with professional concern for all those involved.

Graham also saved me from acquiring a criminal record. The then education minister, Eric Willis, was being considered for position of premier at the time and a group of TTA members went to plaster his electorate with anti-Willis posters.

On the main street of Earlwood the police cornered the miscreants and it was only the smooth-talking Graham who saved us. I think he asked the constabulary if they were members of the police union and if they were happy with their most recent pay deal.

I had the pleasure of travelling around NSW with Graham, visiting teachers’ colleges. I got to know him well and admired his intellect and his commitment to trade unionism, the Sutherland District Trade Union Club and his wonderful wife, Dianne.

Truly a great person.

Ron Brown
Maitland Grossmann High School

Reserve trades courses for TAFE

The scandals in recent years in the VET sector, despite only relating to a small number of operators, have done significant reputational damage and it is now vital that the sector receives support to rebuild itself. One shonky for-profit operator is one too many. Private providers are only interested in one thing: making money, and they are damaging trade training.

The only way to rebuild the VET section is for government to legislate that only trade courses be done at TAFE colleges.

This will relieve the pressure on young people trying to decide which provider to choose and also ensure that the high standards of Australian tradespeople are maintained.

All Certificate III course (trade courses) should only be run by TAFE colleges nationwide. Only then can the public be confident that when a plumber, electrician, builder, motor mechanic or other tradesperson is engaged, the service rendered would be of a high and safe standard.

Tony Morrissey
Petersham TAFE

Disregard NAPLAN sniping

I would strongly urge anybody who believes in quality and equitable education not to be too concerned by the comments of those in the federal government who try to incite worry about apparent falling NAPLAN standards.

NAPLAN is a diagnostic tool and a limited one at that. It’s reasonably good for educational institutions and parents to have something to work with for future educational goals. Its original purpose was never to be an instrument for political manipulation.

The cynical opportunism by certain politicians and media to exploit NAPLAN data to deflect attention from fully funding Gonski is driven by an economic belief that unless the end user is prepared to pay and pay heavily then the state shouldn’t feel obliged to have to subsidise education in any meaningful way.

This will increase inequality and polarise society further between the haves and have-nots. Those preaching this message are incredible hypocrites: they will push the money doesn’t matter fantasy but what we’re seeing is obscene amounts of tax payer funds going to elite private schools.

Furthermore, we’re seeing TAFE eroded, its fees increasing and the public money that should be going to TAFE being funnelled into private providers that have misappropriated and wasted our money because the accountability isn’t there.

Robert Wrona
Casual teacher